Entries linking to shiftless
c. 1300, "a movement, a beginning," from shift (v.); by mid-15c. as "an attempt, expedient, or means." This is the word in make shift "make efforts" (mid-15c.; see makeshift). The specific sense of "means to an end" is from 1520s, hence "a device, a trick." The sense of "change, alteration" in character, place, position, etc., is from 1560s.
The meaning "mechanism for changing gear in a motor vehicle" is recorded from 1914. Typewriter shift key is so called by 1893; its shift-lock is so called from 1899.
The meaning "period of working time" (originally in a mine) is attested from 1809, perhaps from or influenced by an older sense "relay of horses" (1708); perhaps also influenced by a North Sea Germanic cognate word (such as North Frisian skeft "division, stratum," skaft "one of successive parties of workmen"). Similar double senses of "division" and "relay of workers" is in Swedish skift, German schicht.
word-forming element meaning "lacking, cannot be, does not," from Old English -leas, from leas "free (from), devoid (of), false, feigned," from Proto-Germanic *lausaz (cognates: Dutch -loos, German -los "-less," Old Norse lauss "loose, free, vacant, dissolute," Middle Dutch los, German los "loose, free," Gothic laus "empty, vain"), from PIE root *leu- "to loosen, divide, cut apart." Related to loose and lease.
Middle English shiften, from Old English sciftan, scyftan "arrange, place, put in order" (a sense now obsolete), also "divide, separate, partition; distribute, allot, share" (now obsolete or provincial), from Proto-Germanic *skiftan (source also of Old Norse skipta "to divide, change, separate," Old Frisian skifta "to decide, determine, test," Dutch schiften "to divide, turn," German schichten "to classify," Schicht "shift"). This is said to be related to the source of Old English sceadan "divide, separate" (see shed (v.)).
By c. 1200 as "to dispose; make ready; set in order, control," also intransitive, "take care of oneself." Thus "manage to succeed, make out a livelihood" (as in shift for oneself, 1510s; also compare makeshift).
The sense of "to alter, to change" appeared by mid-13c. (compare shiftless). Also from mid-13c. in the transitive sense of "remove and replace with another or others," originally especially of clothing, hence "put on and replace one's clothes" (c.1400).
From c. 1300 as "to go, move, depart; move (someone or something), transport" as from one place or position to another. The meaning "change the gear setting of an engine" is from 1910; to shift gears in the figurative sense is from 1961. Related: Shifted; shifting.
updated on August 23, 2022